Back in the late 1930’s a German Lutheran pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book about grace called “The Cost of Discipleship.” Having witnessed the violent excesses of the Nazi party, he wondered why so many religious leaders in Germany could proclaim God’s grace and forgiveness without talking about repentance or the consequences of sin. He called that kind of grace “cheap grace.” While his writings have influenced generations of Christians ever since, today many people are wondering if we’ve fallen into the same trap, or even worse.
Modern church-goers, especially younger ones, are looking for a church that will not “judge” them. Often they have had an experience where a former pastor held them accountable for an act or situation the pastor considered wrong. They were deeply hurt by the words or actions of the pastor. In fact, they either changed churches or stopped attending church altogether. These days churches are under pressure to be true to the gospel and their identity as followers of Christ while at the same time avoiding being seen as judgmental by visitors and newer attendees. As church attendance declines and churches are struggling to bring in new members, you can just imagine which way church leaders will lean in their choice between being seen as judgmental or being true to their understanding of the Bible. Those two are not always mutually exclusive, but churches find themselves trying to strike a delicate balance between the two. The result is often something that has been referred to by some as “mediocre grace.”
Mediocre grace means people have little sense of accountability to God or to the church for their actions. R&B Artist Kanye West is well known for responding to his critics by saying, “Only God can judge me.” His words echo the sentiment of people who believe they can make whatever choices they want in life and simply expect to be embraced by God and the folks at church without any discussion of the consequences of sin. While this approach may allow a church to attract and retain more new members, it does not help people become true disciples of Christ. It only fosters a mediocre faith at best. That mediocrity begins to affect the way people think about serving God through their church. People feel as though the congregation is fortunate to have them as attendees, and in turn they don’t have any accountability for their life choices. Christianity is whatever they decide it is. And they can be as selfish or immoral as they want to be because God will always forgive them.
While we technically believe that to be true, it is a misreading of the basic Christian understanding of grace. Grace is designed to make us holy. We are meant to respond to it by becoming better and better disciples of Christ instead of using grace as an excuse to be mediocre Christians. Keep that in mind as we walk with Jesus toward the cross in this Lenten season.